The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan
World War II is being over mined for story topics and recently I’ve said that there has to be something different about a book to make me interested in yet another story set in the war. Hopefully, I’m not being a snob about it but really, there are a lot of them now. One thing I’ve always been interested in more than the names of generals and dates of battles is how real people were managing. What was it like at home? What was it like to cope, to go without, to band together? I am not sure we could do it anymore but at one time people did.
The Kitchen Front spoke to me completely. How do you feed a family with rationing? How creative did a cook have to be? Apparently, very creative! Not one smidgen of anything was wasted. Substitutions and compromises were your only tool. An adult received 4 slices of bacon, no more than 2 pounds of minced meat, a 2 inch cube of cheese, 8 tablespoons of margarine, four tablespoons butter, 3 pints of milk, 1 cup of sugar, 4 tablespoons of jam, 2 ounces of tea, one egg plus 1 packet of dried egg powder and 3 ounces of sweets per week. Not rationed but hard to find were sausages, fish, vegetables, flour and bread. Canned foods could only be purchased with the extra point monthly ration. Obviously creativity was important. A home garden was essential, living in the country gave the added advantage of fresh fish and wild fowl.
With this in mind, the BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front sponsored a contest to encourage creativity in cooking and the four women who entered were given the tasks of creatively preparing three courses. The prize is a spot on the program promoting ration cooking. A real job!
Audrey is a young widow trying to keep her home. Lady Gwendoline is Audrey’s sister but married to money and miserable. She would like to find a way to get out from under his control. Nell is a kitchen maid to Lady Gwendoline’s kitchen. She wants a life. Period. Zelda is a professional chef in a man’s world...and kitchens. She wants to prove a woman can be a professional and respected.
The four women are the four contestants, they spend the spring and summer prepping, planning and cooking their entries into the contest. One of them realizes her dream.
The story is predictable in the characters, each woman representing the many, but they carry the story in their mixing bowls as the most interesting is the actual cooking with the ingredients found and acquired and the substitutions needed to camouflage. How do you make something that would impress the judges, be on the ration list, and something the Ministry of Food was promoting? Well, how about whale?
I loved this and have been waiting for a book that features the challenges of home front.